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Forging a More Sustainable Path

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Plastics have transformed our society in innumerable ways and are an integral part of nearly every commercial sector. But the ubiquity of plastics and the lack of easy and cheap recycling techniques have resulted in waste plastics accumulating in landfills and encroaching on the environment. The current, linear paradigm of produce, consume, and discard is in need of a complete overhaul. We need to implement a circular plastics economy in which all plastics are reused or economically recycled after use.

Recently, the plastic waste crisis has spurred policy changes and global partnerships as governments and organizations respond to the problem. For example, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting the circular economy, launched its New Plastics Economy initiative in 2018. This initiative is catalyzing change and bringing together key stakeholders to rethink and redesign the future of plastics, starting with packaging. In 2019, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste pledged $1.5 billion over five years to eliminate plastic waste in the environment. In May 2021, three plastic resin producers — Dow, LyondellBasell, and NOVA Chemicals — pledged to invest $25 million in the Closed Loop Circular Plastics Fund, which aims to spur innovations in recycling technology.

Despite the progress being made, countless challenges remain before a circular plastics economy can be achieved. A wide variety of plastics can...

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